Tuesday, 17 July 2012

If They Tell You I Fell

In the post Spanish Civil War years, Catalan kids would sit in circles among the ruins and tell stories, known as "aventis" open-ended narratives drifting back and forth through time. Laced with horror and perversity, these tales mix war stories, local gossip, comic book characters, fantasy and real events. The "aventis" of this film are told in flashback in 1970, 1940, 1936 and the mid 1980s.

In 1970, Nito, a medical examiner assistant and sister Paulina, a nurse-nun (who grew up together, and now are co-workers in a hospital) identify the corpse of a couple who had drowned during a car accident. The dead man is Daniel Javaloyes "Java", one of the main characters of the "aventis" of their childhood and adolescence. The woman seems to be Juanita, who forty years before was one of many orphans. The discovery of Java’s body (long presumed dead) leads them to remember what had happened decades before. Flashbacks reveal a story that may or may not have happened.

In the old quarter of 1940s Barcelona inhabitants are struggling to survive among the ruins left by the Spanish Civil War. Daniel Javaloyes, "Java" is one of them. He is a young man trying by any means to leave behind the misery around him. He lives in a dilapidated house with his grandmother, a mute trapper. To make some money, the hardened Java performs perverse sexual acts for the voyeuristic pleasure of Don Conrado, a rich sadistic man, who uses a wheelchair after being wounded during the war. In one of those sexual encounters for hire, Java has violent sex with Ramona, a visibly pregnant prostitute. From then on Java is smitten with the fallen woman. Initially he finds out very little about her, but when Conrado’s mother visits him also looking for her, Java learns that Ramona had been a maid in Don Conrado’s household. She bears a scarred left nipple caused by his sadism.

Marcos, Java’s older brother, was an anarchist during the war and now is hiding on the grounds of the family’s house. He yearns to see his girlfriend Aurora Nin again, whose identity would be blended with Ramona’s in the stories told by Sarnita, one of the kids in Java’s neighborhood. Sarnita entertains his friends telling them aventis, mixing real events with others that have been invented. Aurora Nin and Java are prominent figures in those stories. Meanwhile, the perverse Don Conrado is directing a religious amateur play about the sacrifice of a Christian martyr. FueguiƱa, one of the orphans in the institution where Paulina works, plays the leading role. Java wants to be an actor and blackmails FueguiƱa in order to take the part of the devil in the play. Reluctantly Conrado allows him to participate, at least during rehearsals.

Flash back to 1936. During the war, Marcos, fighting for the Republic, takes revenge on Don Conrado’s brutality towards his girlfriend Aurora Nin. When the men under Marco’s command do not find Conrado, they kill Conrado’s father instead. Conrado’s mother barely escapes with her life thanks to Aurora’s intervention.

In one of his sexual assignments for Conrado, Java has a young man as a sexual partner instead of a woman. He does not back down, but knowing that Ado, the teenager, has been paid twice as much, he follows him to get a bigger share of the money. Through Ado, Java gets involved with a rich jewelry dealer. In him, Java sees the opportunity to escape his poverty-restricted life.

In 1940, Marcos’ old cronies from the war are also looking for him. Still trying secret anti-government plots, they have resorted mainly to criminal activities. Palau, the leader of the gang has chosen his target: Menchu, a bleach blonde prostitute who works for the elite Falangist of the city. To strike them back, Palau and his partners Fusam and Sendra attack Menchu, brutally killing her. When his pursuit of Ramona proves aimless, Java, now sure that Ramona is in fact Aurora Nin, leads Ramona to Marcos’s secret hiding place and the former lovers are happily reunited. Taking advantage of a commotion in the neighborhood Marcos and Ramona managed to escape the city.

In modern day Barcelona, by the mid 1980s, Palau, on a busy street, has a glance of an old couple asking for money. They seem to be Marcos and Aurora Nin.

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